Introvert Humour

Last night we went to a get-together for expats here in Paris, and one of the attendees happened to be a mathematician visiting the city for a month. When the topic turned to introversion, as it often does once I mention that I write this blog, the mathematician shared a great joke about his peers that relates to the topic. Since I don’t trust myself to phrase it as aptly as he did, I found a version of it on the Mathematic humor Web site as follows:

The difference between an introvert and extrovert mathematician[s] is: An introvert mathematician looks at his shoes while talking to you. An extrovert mathematician looks at your shoes.

Hearing this joke inspired me to include more introvert humour on Spectatrix, but unfortunately I don’t know any good zingers. Got any good ones? Please send them my way via comments or email. (Kudos to the first person to give a funny answer to “How many introverts does it take to screw in a lightbulb” other than “One, obviously.”)

Update: Check out the comments section for some great joke submissions I’ve received since posting this. Thanks to everyone who has responded so far, and to everyone else, keep ‘em coming!

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Copy Cat

Since we raised our cat Zora from a kitten, we like to joke that she’s taken on some of our introverted personality quirks, like needing her quiet time, and hiding when guests come over. Of course, those behaviors may be de rigueur for cats (which is why we’re both cat people), but we still find it amusing when we see some parallel between her reactions and ours. One good example of this is our mutual aversion to loud noises.

Just as Joe and I cringe when a wailing ambulance drives by, or a loudspeaker blares in our ears, there are some noises that Zora cannot tolerate at all. We found this out soon after we moved to our apartment in Paris, when a new bathroom layout tempted Zora to set up shop beneath a cozy radiator. Her new favorite hiding spot kept her out of sight so well that when one of us went to take a shower, we would forget she was in the room. That is, until she suddenly started loudly begging (after the shower was on, of course) to be let out of this room with the horrible noise maker. Because there are few things more annoying than having to step out of a hot shower dripping wet just to placate a complaining cat, we soon learned that it was best to check for her presence before starting the shower.

However, we found that it wasn’t always easy to dislodge her from her beloved hideout when the time came for showering. We hit upon a solution when I remembered that Zora always left the room quickly whenever I used my hair dryer. The next time I went for a shower, I plugged in the dryer and turned it on briefly. Zora was out of the room like a shot, and we had found our evacuation method. After months of experimentation, we’ve now gotten to the point that we only have to SHOW her the hair dryer and she will clear out. While it’s not a trick worthy of the talk show circuit, it is some consolation that we’re not the only ones being trained in this relationship.

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The Problem with Instant Messaging

I don’t often use instant messaging programs like AIM or iChat, and it turns out there may be a reason for that besides a lack of friends. In his recent article, Instant Messaging for Introverts, Mac writer (and husband to this blogger) Joe Kissell argues that introverts may be put off by these types of programs because of the unique demands they make on the user’s attention. Joe explains that for many introverts it is difficult to concentrate on numerous tasks at once, which makes it challenging to participate in online chats while attending to other work projects. In addition, because introverts often carefully weigh out what they will say (or write in the case of instant messaging), the energy it takes to respond to someone in writing may equal or exceed that required for personal interactions, meaning that instant messaging can quickly become a draining experience for the introvert involved. However, because it is sometimes necessary or helpful to use these types of programs, Joe goes beyond diagnosing the problem and gives some practical suggestions about how to make them work for introverts.

I’d highly recommend this article because I think Joe has identified one of those aspects of modern social interaction that often goes unexamined by extroverts and introverts alike. Like a shoe that doesn’t quite fit right, introverts might not always understand why they are feeling uncomfortable, and this type of analysis helps to clarify the situation. You can find the article, and many other useful Mac-related articles, on the TidBITS Web site.

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Sad and Shy, or Melancholy and Introverted?

One of my favorite Web sites is Arts & Letters Daily, a round-up of interesting articles from across the Web. This week the site brought two articles to my attention that I found noteworthy for a variety of reasons, and the more I thought about them, the more they seemed to fit together in some synergistic way. The first article, In Praise of Melancholy, is an impassioned argument for the importance of sadness, or melancholy, to the human experience. The author, Eric G. Wilson, bemoans the “American obsession with happiness,” and contends that it “breeds blandness,” and leads to a lack of authenticity in our lives. He cites the poet John Keats as an example of someone who understood that although life can be difficult and tragic, the very sense of the fleetingness of human existence is what helps us appreciate the beauty of the world.

As a poet and sometime melancholic, I found a lot to appreciate in this article, most likely because I have often had the kinds of aesthetic epiphanies that may come from contemplating the world in a melancholic light. I can’t do justice to the article here, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to challenge their thinking about the value of sadness to a fully-lived life. However, the more I thought about this article, the more I realized that a piece of the puzzle was missing; the pre-condition for my own bouts of insight into the deeper meaning of things was not sadness but the very act of reflection. I think that sadness may cause more introspection, as we look for an answer, or the silver lining, to whatever is troubling us, but I find it hard to put human suffering and pain up on such a pedestal, as something to be relished almost (of course, I’m overstating here). As I came to believe many years ago after reading theologian Dorothee Soelle’s book Suffering, it is immoral to impose the idea that suffering has to have an inherent meaning, because that expectation can lead to justifications for horrible acts of brutality. In the most extreme example, how could anyone expect a survivor of the Holocaust to agree that the experience was beneficial to them in any way?

I think part of the problem is the definition of terms. I have always thought of melancholy as a voluntary state, not something imposed by external events. The quintessential melancholic experience for me is to go for a solitary walk in a lonely park, on a cloudy or rainy day, and to revel in the thoughts that spring from that environment. Real sadness, the kind that knocks you down and makes it difficult to think straight, is not something I can easily wish on someone. I make this distinction because I think melancholy, or the ability to contemplate the world at a remove from its surface appearances, is something that comes more naturally to introverts, and it’s a quality I highly value. Sadness on the other hand, or even depression, afflicts everyone equally, and is not conducive to creativity in the same way.

This leads me to the second article I mentioned earlier, a review of a book called Shyness: How Normal Behaviour Became a Sickness by Christopher Lane. As the title might suggest, the premise of the book is that while shyness was formerly socially acceptable (a claim I might take issue with), it is more and more being treated as a mental health issue that requires medication. This is an interesting argument, but my sympathy for it is tempered by my disappointment in the author’s seeming lack of awareness about the difference between shyness and introversion. In the material quoted from his book, he conflates the two, weakening his assertion that changes to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) have resulted in:

…the introverted individual [being] morphed into the mildly psychotic person whose symptoms included being aloof, being dull, and simply “being alone”… Apparently, social phobia—shyness— …has become a pandemic.

I am sympathetic to the author up to this last sentence; if being introverted is equated with being mentally ill, then I will take issue as well. But, if you believe, as I do, that introversion does not equal shyness, then the logic of his argument unravels. I can also agree that just because someone is shy doesn’t mean that those aspects of their behaviour should be overstated either. But I see introversion and shyness as being two completely different sets of characteristics. I have known very extroverted people who nonetheless could be considered to have mild social phobia, and I have known introverts who are exceedingly comfortable with being around others (although they usually prefer solitude).

While this might seem like a semantic quarrel, I think the broader implications of it are important. People who are truly suffering anxiety and who are not able to interact with others should not have their concerns diminished. Conversely, assumptions should not be made about a person’s mental well-being simply because of their external behaviour. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is a big gap between preferring solitude and feeling unable to overcome it, and that difference is often known only to the individual experiencing it.

While these two articles address different topics, they both come to a similar conclusion: that we shouldn’t try to eradicate normal emotions like sadness and shyness in the name of mental health. While I admire the sentiment behind this idea, and agree with it to a certain extent, neither author is able to make a solid case for it because of what I see as the inconsistencies in their arguments: sadness is not the same thing as melancholy, and shyness is not the same thing as introversion. People who are suffering from depression or severe social anxiety do not need to hear that it is really our society that is to blame, that their problems, quite likely biochemical in nature, are all in their heads. Of course it is possible to go too far, and to try to medicate away any kind of discomfort, but I would argue that the benefits of our current knowledge of psychopharmaceuticals outweigh the potential for their abuse.

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First Impressions

A few months ago, Joe and I went out for dinner with a new friend, and throughout the meal he and Joe kept up a lively conversation, while I mostly listened. This was partly due to the fact that I wasn’t feeling well, but also because I felt I didn’t really have much to say about the topics being discussed, although I enjoyed listening to the discussion.

A few weeks later, we met up with this friend again, and he sheepishly admitted that he had since visited this blog, and felt like he needed to apologize for dominating the conversation that night. I assured him that it was quite alright, and that I hadn’t felt sidelined, but had just preferred not to be so talkative. He then further admitted that at the time he had thought I was too intimidated or shy to join the conversation, but after reading my blog he realized that there had been times when I piped up about something (usually to correct Joe about some fact or other), and so was able to get my two cents in as I wished. I was pleased that this new friend now saw something about me that he hadn’t earlier. It’s not often I get the chance to make a good second impression.

It’s this anxiety about making a good first impression that I think hobbles introverts especially. We’re told from a young age that people will be judging us on how they first see us, but for introverts, it’s really not so easy for people to get to know us immediately. That may leave the impression that we’re shy, or that we’re arrogant, or that we don’t have an interesting thought in our heads. I’ve found it quite frustrating at times, and it’s become even more of an issue now that we’ve moved to a new place and are meeting a lot of new people. I want people to think that I am a smart, engaging person, but my introvert tendencies might work against that desire more often than I know.

Even knowing about this phenomenon, it still makes me wary when I read something like this introduction to a test dubbed the Talkaholic Scale:

Considerable research had determined that the more a person talks (in most cases, unless the person is an incompetent communicator or saying things that are offensive to others) the more positively that person is evaluated by others. They are more likely to be seen as a leader, as being more competent, and more positively on a variety of other person perception variables.

I know this to be true, but it still rankles. The ironic thing is that this test is actually meant to help someone realize that they talk too much (not usually a problem for me). While it acknowledges that talking a lot is often seen in a good light, the existence of this test points out that there is a downside to loquacity.

Because I’m always struggling with the opposite perception, I never gave much thought to the kind of first impression an overly talkative person might impart. I recently met someone who, when I mentioned that I wrote a blog for introverts, identified themselves strongly as an extrovert, but then went on to admit that far from expressing confidence, their talkativeness was born out of nervousness and insecurity. Since having that conversation, I’ve thought more about how my own prejudices color my first impression of other people. I think I have internalized the idea that talkativeness equals confidence more than I should have, and have missed seeing the shared vulnerability in a talkative person that might have led to friendship. It’s also interesting to think that the reverse is true, that someone might have interpreted my introversion as a form of confidence.

That gives me some hope, because I often do feel confident and at ease on the inside, even if that is not seen by others. As I learn more about my own preferred way of being in the world, I feel this even more. I can now move between silence and conversation at parties, not feeling that I need to be engaged in conversation at all times, but also more willing to talk to new friends. I’d imagine the goal might be the same for a talkative person, to know their own rhythm and to be able to find a balance between speech and silence.

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Addressing the Extrovert in the Room

I have a love-hate relationship with advice columns. I love them because they prove that other people out there have the same problems I do (albeit usually in a more extreme version), but I hate them because they make me feel like I’m rubbernecking at a crash scene, somehow getting comfort or enjoyment out of the fact that I’m not the one in such dire straits. The addition of reader comments to online columns only makes this phenomenon that much more potent; now the general public can also play judge and jury to those desperate enough to write to a total stranger for advice. Sometimes it makes me nostalgic for the old days, you know, when Abby or Ann had the last word.

What makes these comment sections so insidious is that they seem to draw mostly those on polar opposites of a certain question; the vitriol and intentional misunderstanding on both sides often makes me cringe. Alas, this is also what makes them fun to read! But after taking in so many comments by wannabe advice-givers, I have to stop and remind myself that no one making these comments has the full story. They are only guessing, based on the letter writer’s account, which may be further edited by the columnist, at where the real problem lies. For that reason, I’ve stopped reading these comments as attempts at helping or admonishing the letter writer, but more as an indication of the state of that particular person’s soul. What are they reading into the story based on their own experiences that makes them so passionate about this topic?

All this was going through my head as I re-read a column written by Cary Tennis, the advice columnist on Salon.com. I had saved the link to this column, which originally ran last March, because it seemed pertinent to introvert-related discussions. The basic story is that a woman was incensed because her best friend’s husband, whom she has known for forty years, recently made some comments to her that she found highly insulting (you can read more of the details in the column). The letter writer summed up his comments as follows:

He told me that he was having a difficult time being in my company. I said that after all these years you are telling me this? After that he continued: I make noises and cackle, I laugh too loud, I’m offensive, I’m too boisterous, and maybe I should walk around with a microphone to hear myself. And to add more insult, as if this were not enough, he noted that friends of theirs also have difficulty in my company.

All in all, written from her perspective, these comments seem very hurtful and not very constructive. However, going with my theory that the reader isn’t getting the full story, I wonder how the situation felt to the man who made the comments. I have to say, being an introvert, and having known many people who seem to suck the air out of a room without realizing the effect they are having on other people (only a small subset of extroverts by the way), my sympathies naturally lie with the best friend’s husband. And as to her question about why it’s taken him so long to express his discomfort, I can easily understand why he might have been hesitant to mention anything to her. As most introverts know, it just isn’t done. You don’t get to call someone on their “boisterous” behavior, no matter its effect on you, because you might hurt that person’s feelings when they are only “expressing their personality.” If you do, you risk having your own preferences questioned and belittled, as many of the comments on this column went on to illustrate.

Not knowing either of the people involved, the majority of the commenters (apart from a few brave souls who expressed sympathy for the possibly introverted man) felt free to make harsh judgments about this woman’s “tormentor,” insinuating that he is insensitive, has a problem with women, is anti-social, leads a pitiful little life, even going so far as to imply that his mental faculties are eroding as he gets older. Even Cary Tennis, the columnist, gets in on the act of bashing this man for his behavior. Maybe he knows something we don’t, but based on what was available, I don’t think all this vociferousness was justified. I don’t agree with the manner in which this man made his comments, but I can identify with the level of frustration he may have been feeling. As one of the more thoughtful commenters noted, if it was insensitive for him to bring up his grievances after all these years, she was equally insensitive in not realizing the effect her behavior had on him for the same number of years.

As I said earlier, I believe that we bring to these modern fables our own experiences which color our reactions. I will admit up front that I am usually more sympathetic to the introvert in these types of situations (within limits of course). But I don’t yet know how to answer the bigger question this raises: how do we as introverts make space for ourselves without lashing out in frustration (as this man seemed to do)? Is there a constructive way to tell someone they’re bothering you?

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The LongPen is Mightier

I just read today that the LongPen, a virtual signing tool for writers and celebrities, will have a trial run in major bookstores in Toronto, New York, and London this fall. Famed Canadian author Margaret Atwood came up with the idea for the LongPen, which comprises a video screen and digital writing tablet on the writer’s end, and a video screen and automated pen on the other end. Using the LongPen, fans can interact with and get virtual autographs from their idols, who can themselves remain comfortably ensconced at home.

Atwood has received criticism from some quarters for her invention, mostly from people who don’t think fans should miss out on actual interaction with their favorite writers or celebrities. Atwood insists she isn’t trying to do away with book tours and signings, but is just providing another opportunity for connection when it isn’t otherwise possible. For example, those who aren’t able to travel for one reason or another could still be present in virtual form. And for celebrities concerned about the effects of frequent global travel, the LongPen could be a way to reduce their carbon footprint.

I’m not sure how to feel about the LongPen; I do enjoy meeting authors in person when they are on book tours, but it’s interesting to think about how many otherwise famously reclusive writers might make themselves available for LongPen sessions. And even though at this point I would find a book tour thrilling (meaning that I had in fact published a book), I can imagine one growing weary of the endless travel once you’ve done it a few times (and Atwood has written thirty books). I do think the LongPen could be a boon to famous introverts for whom public appearances hold little appeal, but I don’t think it can replace the real thing. For those of us who get tongue-tied in the presence of our idols, you just can’t substitute virtual embarrassment for making a fool of yourself in person.

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Facing up to Facebook

I’ve always resisted joining social networking sites like MySpace or Friendster because for the most part I enjoy my anonymity (present blog excepted). However, it seems like the universe has been conspiring lately to get me to join Facebook. Within the last few weeks, four friends, from completely different social circles, have extolled the benefits of the site, and have urged me to join up. Tempted by their descriptions of how easy it is to reconnect with friends from high school and college, and by the offer of a long distance Scrabble game now and again, I finally took the plunge a few days ago.

Now it seems I can’t stop.

When I first started looking up people I might know, it was amazing to realize it was possible to contact friends I had lost touch with long ago. There they were, right on the screen and within emailing distance. My first impulse was to contact a bunch of people right away, but my wiser second impulse was to take my time and contact a few people at a time, so I wouldn’t get too overwhelmed with responses (or have to console myself for a lack of responses). Another issue for me in the beginning was that as much as I’d enjoy getting back in touch with people, I have a hard time being breezy in email messages, the electronic version of small talk. Once a friend and I reconnected, would I have anything interesting to say, or would I slip back into the mode of communicating I employed when I knew them earlier (i.e. my pre-introvert awareness days)?

Strangely enough, I’m finding that the lack of anonymity is not a problem, that I’m enjoying sharing photos and personal information with friends and potential friends. I think part of this is due to the writing I’ve done on this blog, which has helped me to be more open about where I’m really at, but it goes beyond that. Being able to present a full (or semi-full) snapshot of the person I am now (likes, dislikes, work, daily activities) on my own terms makes me feel much more free to be social. I don’t have to get into all the little details (they can see them on my Profile), but I can start from where I am right now, and avoid small talk altogether. While a social networking site can’t substitute for relationships in the non-virtual world, in the short amount of time I’ve been onboard, I’ve been surprised to find that it may be the next best thing to being with friends and family in person.

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Super Powers for the Introverted

Last night Joe and I watched the movie The Incredibles again, and it reminded me of an earlier post I wrote about superheroes who have introverted alter egos. Joe found it interesting that one of the characters in the movie, Violet, who in her alter ego is a shy girl in her early teens, has super powers many introverts would love to have: the ability to put a force field around herself (and others), and the ability to become invisible.

I had to agree that these super powers were very appealing to me, and I had happy visions of creating an impenetrable force field around myself the next time I walked down a crowded Paris sidewalk. Of course I’ve also often thought how nice it would be to be able to disappear in an uncomfortable situation—those pushy salespeople and talkative strangers would have no idea where I had gone.

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(Don’t) Correct Me If I’m Wrong

A few months ago, during a t’ai chi class, my teacher singled me out to show the class how not to perform a certain movement. While he may have been right about my mistake, I felt an immediate physical reaction to this attention. My face flushed, my heart began to pound, and I stifled the urge to say something I’d later regret. My reaction seemed way out of proportion to the events taking place; the teacher was not being unkind, but was fulfilling his role as someone trying to help me get better at my t’ai chi practice. Still, the embarrassed anger I felt seemed to come from a deep place; it reminded me of similar incidents in childhood where I felt powerless and upset about being corrected in front of other people.

The potential for this kind of humiliation was especially high in situations involving athletic activity, and in school I dreaded gym class more than anything. I feared being made fun of, of ending up in last place, of simply making a fool of myself. When my husband and I started dating, it was a sign of our clear compatibility when we both admitted to loathing gym class. I always thought gym class was torture because I had no athletic ability, but now I realize that it was my introverted nature that held me back. My fear of being embarrassed or humiliated kept me from jumping in wholeheartedly, and meant that I didn’t learn what I needed to learn in order to succeed.

I think if there had been more understanding from the adults involved, it would have helped me enormously. I find it so valuable that writers like Marti Olsen Laney are now trying to provide parents and educators with information about how to deal specifically with introverted children (see her book, The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child). On her Web site Laney advises parents of introverted children to “Never correct your child in front of others,” and to “Let them watch before entering an activity.” I think these are both helpful ideas for any adult working with introverted children.

While it was hard as a child to escape these kinds of situations, as an adult I like to think that I have more control over my environment. And now that I know my own tendencies, perhaps I can be a little easier on myself when embarrassing things happen. I also take comfort in the fact that I’m not alone; as Nancy Fenn notes in another of her Top 10 Ways to Market to Introverts, “Introverts are greatly afraid of making mistakes in public and of humiliation in public during a learning period.”

Armed with this knowledge, I hope that I can make the best out of the current “learning period” I’m in. Although I have taken French classes in the past, our move to Paris has meant dusting off those skills, and realizing how much I have to relearn. Before we moved here I was greatly looking forward to this process, but now that we are here, I feel as if I’ve hit a wall. Making conversation with strangers is not always easy for me in English, and it is accordingly harder in a language I’m unsure in. I dread saying the wrong thing, or drawing a blank during an important conversation, or most horrifyingly of all, being ridiculed for my mistakes. With all this in mind, it’s definitely easier for me not to make the effort than to dive in and do it. So how do I honor my introverted nature while still working towards my goal of becoming more fluent in French?

I think I have to remember to breathe, and to give myself time to collect my thoughts in the moment, without feeling pressured to respond immediately. This may annoy those I’m speaking to (whose words are coming at me in a nonstop barrage), but I think it’s the only way I can stay calm enough to remain engaged and active in the conversation. But it’s easier said than done.

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Truffles for Breakfast: Savoring Life in France

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my husband Joe and I recently moved to Paris. When we first started planning this move, we decided that we wanted to create a blog to document the process of getting here, since we thought it might be of interest to other people looking to do the same thing. Well, we didn’t manage to get it off the ground before we left San Francisco, but as of last week, it is now completely up and running.

The blog is called Truffles for Breakfast, and besides providing details about how we went about moving here, it also includes stories and photos of our daily life in Paris. If you’ve ever dreamed about living in or visiting Paris, it’s our hope that this site will provide you with the inspiration and the information to make that happen.

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The Need to Read

In her article The Top 10 Ways to Market to Introverts, self-described “IntrovertZCoach” Nancy R. Fenn describes 10 common introvert attributes that influence how introverts respond to advertising and marketing pitches. Among the traits she highlights is one that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, that “Introverts love to read.” About this characteristic she says:

See that person over there on the cruise reading the small print on the cereal box? That’s an introvert. See that woman across the aisle there, actually reading the inflight magazine? That, too, is an introvert. Whoever thought about putting advertisements in elevators and inside toilet doors had introverts in mind. Well … it’s better than having to talk to the other people in the elevator!!

I think this analysis is priceless, if only because I see myself so clearly in her description. Since I was a tiny tot I’ve been an incredibly avid reader, using reading as an escape from social interaction (as Fenn depicts) but also as a hedge against boredom and unhappiness. There is something so comforting to me about diving into a good book; it gives me a distraction from my sometimes wearying thoughts without draining my energy as spending time with others has a tendency to do.

While reading is always a favorite activity, I do have periods when I’m not so much in need of the written word. I’m content to dip into and out of various books, magazines, and Web sites, without suspending other activities. But at other times, the need to read feels almost like a physical necessity, and long periods of devouring a good book the only antidote.

Since we arrived in Paris I’ve been experiencing this need to read quite acutely, even though, or maybe because, suitable reading material is not so accessible. Books are heavy, and with a heavy heart I had to leave most of mine behind in storage when we got on the plane. I did bring a few, but they are mostly reference books that don’t encourage quick consumption. We have made a few forays to local English language bookstores, and I’ve been able to find a few books to hold me over, but something very special is happening tonight (I’m sure you know what it is) that promises to help me scratch this itch.

Yes, the new Harry Potter book comes out tonight, and Joe and I have already reserved our copies (one for each of us, for the sake of marital harmony) that we will pick up at approximately 1 a.m. tomorrow morning from a cute little bookstore in the 4th Arrondissement. I have enjoyed the Harry Potter series, and I’m not happy to see it come to an end, but I am happy to know that my weekend plans will revolve around the simple pleasures of a ripping good story.

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Bar None

About a week before we left San Francisco, Joe and I found ourselves at loose ends on a Friday night. Needing some exercise and an escape from the piles of boxes in our apartment, we decided to take a walk. This is a normal activity for us, but on this particular night we decided to do something out of the ordinary; we went looking for a place to have a drink. After a long week of packing, sorting, and running errands, we wanted to relax a little, and besides, in preparation for the move we had already disposed of (in one way or another) all the alcohol we had in the house.

Specifically, we both were in the mood for an ice-cold martini, not just for its calming properties, but also for nostalgia’s sake. The martini, much like Irish coffee, is a quintessential San Franciscan quaff that we had come to love while living in the city. We knew what we wanted, but as we walked around looking for a spot to consume such a beverage, we grew doubtful about whether or not we could find a suitable place.

The problem was that we are not “bar” people. I don’t mean that we have an objection to bars, just that we are usually so put off by the normal atmosphere of bars, we very rarely darken their thresholds. There are a few main sore spots for us, namely: noise, smoke (although it’s rarely an issue in California), crowds, and televised sporting events. We’re not big fans of any of the above. So as we passed potential places, we took note of whether or not there was a huge crowd spilling out into the street, and also whether the noise level was deafening or just slightly painful.

After we had checked out all the bars in our immediate area, none of which met our criteria, we were ready to give up when we came back across one we had dismissed earlier. As we looked at it more closely, we realized that all the noisy, boisterous people were actually sitting in an enclosed area adjacent to the bar; it also happened to be the smoking section. Encouraged, we stepped inside to see that it was much calmer in the main part of the bar, and there were even some cozy looking tables available near the front.

As we sipped our gin martinis (his with an especially fragrant twist, mine with olives), we felt ourselves grow more relaxed and happy by the minute. Apart from one or two loud people, the crowd was pretty mellow, which suited us just fine. We felt comfortable enough to order a second drink, this time an Irish coffee, and to settle in for a while. We were a little put off by the fact that our seats faced a television screen broadcasting that night’s Giants game, the dreaded televised sporting event, but surprisingly, we began to get into the spirit of the game, calling balls and strikes as we saw them. And as we watched Barry Bonds hit his 749th career home run, it didn’t feel annoying or uncomfortable, but just like another quintessential San Francisco experience to savor for nostalgia’s sake.

Later, as we walked home, Joe turned to me and said somewhat incredulously, “That was actually fun.” It made me happy to think that there may be other introvert-friendly night spots waiting to be discovered, and more chances to have a relaxing night out on the town. Of course, now we have an entirely new city to navigate and explore, with its own limitations (primarily the smokiness of most public places) and opportunities (absinthe is legal in France). But now we’ll be looking for the best place to have a pastis as we create new Parisian memories.

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Downtime

I’m shocked to see that it has been an entire month since I’ve posted anything to Spectatrix. I know that a month in blog time is about a year in real time, but I’ve had a good excuse! Preparing for and then executing a move to a different country tends to eat up a lot of time, and for me this has been an epic move, a Move of Unusual Size (MOUS). Oh sure, I’ve moved between countries before, having moved to the States, back to Canada, and then to the States again, but this was the first move in a long time that I’ve made after being settled in one place for so long. It was a complicated move.

And I think the difficulty of the transition, both mentally and physically, has highlighted once again how strange it may seem for an introvert to be undertaking such a thing as a blog. Unlike many other bloggers, my first response when under stress and duress is not to pour my heart out to (virtual) strangers, but to retreat, to withdraw in order to sort out just what is really bothering me. Maybe this is a limitation for a blogger, but it’s how I am. If I really let people in on my thought processes during a time of confusion and re-orientation, all they’d get would be this type of dialogue:

SELF: How’s it going?

SELF 2: Not sure. Give me a day (or a month) and I’ll get back to you.

I often feel like it’s only after I’ve been through an ordeal that I can understand the experience. Not some people; they’ve got the experience as it’s happening right on the tip of their pen (or at their fingertips) and can write about it right away. I sometimes envy that ability, but there’s also something to be said for the benefit of hindsight. So, while I can’t always offer my readers the vicarious thrill of reading about various painful (and sometimes exciting) experiences as they’re happening to me, instead I can offer the semi-digested experience, written with a clearer mind, and maybe with a bit more insight than would have been possible before.

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Cutting Remarks

A few days ago I went to the hair salon, and before I went, I mentally prepared myself for the most uncomfortable part of such visits—making conversation. I don’t know if anyone else feels this way about chair-side chats, but I always feel like a dope if I can’t think of something interesting to say. I usually try to think of a good story to tell my stylist ahead of time, but if that fails, I rely on my backup strategy—asking the right questions to keep him talking.

Don’t get me wrong, my stylist is extremely nice and friendly, but if it were up to me, I’d spend the whole appointment sitting quietly and just watching the action going on around me. If I do that, however, I feel both boring and unfriendly. I don’t know for sure, but it could be that my stylist wouldn’t mind a break from the chitchat. I know if I were in his position, I’d welcome a bit of quiet time once in a while. But then again, I wouldn’t say making conversation is my forte.

Of course I’ve had jobs where conversation was required (way too many receptionist gigs), but that’s different from making conversation throughout the day. Although it’s probably not at the very top of my list, I’d have to say that a job that required making conversation would be among the professions I would not like to attempt (as James Lipton asks of his guests on Inside the Actor’s Studio).

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